Well I have been here just over a week now and I think you are all due for an email to fill you in on what I have been up to here in Gamboa, Panama. As most of you know, I am down here for 6 months (till the end of May 2009) working with the Fondo Peregrino-Panama, or the Panama Peregrine Fund, volunteering for their Harpy Eagle Reintroduction Program. Currently, all the harpies have been released into Soberania National Park, so my main duties are to work with the other volunteers here and using radio telemetry, locate and if possible, observe the 8 or so eagles we have tracking equipment on. So far I have seen one harpy... her name is LT and she is an adult female that was released this past summer. Seeing her has definitely been one of the highlights so far. She's gorgeous and apparently is the easiest harpy to get good looks at once you find her, she's quite curious.
All of our work is done in Soberania National Park (more or less), which is surrounding the town of Gamboa (where I am living). Soberania National Park is gorgeous; it is all dense rainforest that is suitable habitat for the eagles. Our main access rout to find the harpies is along the 'famous' Pipeline Road, which is claimed to be one of the best areas in the world for bird-watching and wildlife watching in general. The road is 24 km long, winding and lots of up and down hills as it traverses through the park. Everyday there are tours along the road from the nearby Canopy Tower Lodge and Gamboa Rainforest Resort, as well as other private tours being conducted for visitors to Gamboa. So most days we are out along Pipeline Road and taking side trails to various high points (100-200m or more) to check radio signals on the individual birds. Lately the birds have been difficult to find, they are starting to disperse more now and are harder to get signals from. However, in a few months I have been told we will be recapturing some of the birds in order to relocate them to larger tracts of forest, likely in Belize.
Being out in Soberania everyday is challenging though! We are hiking sometimes 10 km or more per day, through dense understory, with biting insects, spiky palm trees, and massive inclines and declines, sometimes on a trail, sometimes not! I've been told this placement should be called the "Fondo Peregrino's Weight-Loss/Get-Into-Shape Program" because of the terrain we are working in and the physical demands of us. I am thoroughly enjoying it though!
Right now it is the tail end of the wet season, and for the past week it feels like it has been raining non-stop. Every day we get heavy rains, but in the next couple weeks or so we should be starting to see more of the sun and less of the rain as the dry season starts in December. I am looking forward to the dry season, although I have already been warned about the abundance of ticks that emerge during the next 6 months or so.
I am living in a small town called Gamboa. It is about 30 km north of Panama City, with daily buses into the city that costs only 65 cents. I have yet to try out the bus system but will need to soon as I am running out of groceries! Just about everything we need we have to get in Panama City. Gamboa is right along the Canal which is pretty neat, and the canal can be seen well from the end of my street. My house is just a few kms from the entrance to Pipeline Road. We have ATVs (only one is working right now but the other 2 will be fixed soon!) to use for getting around when we are working, but everything otherwise is walking distance in town. There is not much here though! Mainly just houses, a small (very small) convenience store, and a massive luxury resort called the Gamboa Rainforest Resort only a few minutes walk from my place. The house I am living in is actually the office for the Panama Rainforest Discovery Centre, and they rent out a couple of the rooms for us to live in. Currently, I am living with 2 other Peregrine Fund volunteers (Rigoberto and Yeray) and a volunteer for the nearby zoo down the road (Arun). Mostly everyone speaks Spanish (so my Spanish is undoubtedly going to improve!). I have recently been introduced to a lot of the other biologists living in Gamboa that are affiliated with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (which is just right across the street from me, that's where I go to do my laundry). In fact, there was a Thanksgiving dinner hosted by some STRI folks just down my street last night. Big turkey, lots of side dishes, lots of new people to meet, it was great. Unfortunately most of the people I have met so far in Gamboa are leaving in the next few weeks because the wet season is coming to a close (most are frog researchers), but a new group of biologists will be moving in soon for the dry season!
Gamboa Rainforest Resort has some nice facilities, and I am going to inquire about getting a membership, since I'll be here for a while. That way I can use the pool, spa, gym and other facilities they have any time.
The wildlife here is amazing. Since Gamboa is engulfed by Soberania NP, I've seen lots of cool creatures right in my own backyard. I have toucans, aracaris, trogons, chachalacas, amazons, parakeets, tanagers, finches, tamarins, caracaras, kites, flycatchers, hummingbirds, agoutis and lots more visible right outside my door. Then once you head into the park there is much much more to see as well. I've seen quite a few howler monkeys already (and can hear them sometimes from my house) and saw white-throated capuchins for the first time today. Motmots, antbirds, and manakins are all quite common along Pipeline Road.
Well I hope I've given you some insight into my life for the next 6 months, I will keep you updated and will likely be starting a blog when I have the chance that you all can check regularly. I'll email the link when I get that set up. Feel free to email, my internet access is pretty good here in the house and I try to get on as often as possible. I hope everything is well back in Ontario! Keep me updated on your lives as well, I'd love to hear what everyone is up to.
OK, I understand that this was more than a 'little' introduction, but there's a lot to say! Future posts will be less lengthly (unless something happens that I just can't keep the little details out)!